Wednesday, July 8, 1998

Carl's 1998 Tour De France

Carls 1998 Tour de France

This story look at Carl's 7 week journey, in France, by bike. It includes bits & pieces taken from his diary. I always had a dream to see the "Tour the France" in person for many years. It all started way back in 1980 when I was racing bicycles for Blackburn Cycle Club (a Melbourne bike club). My fellow club riders had a few old books about "le Tour", we would scan over the photographs, and wish we owned the beautiful racing bikes. We would dream we were Eddy Merkx or Bernard Hinalt, out on the road & have pretend finishing lines to sprint to. It wasn't till 1981 when I saw on TV "Skippy" (*Phil Anderson) take the yellow jersey (leader of le Tour) & hold it for a numbers of days, that's when my dream to see "le Tour" had begun. *Phil Anderson was the first Australian to wear the yellow jersey. From then on, I would watch Le'Tour De France on TV every year. So fast forward to 1998 now, I'm living in the Czech Republic & it's July. That means tour time! Living in Europe allows me to watch 3 hours/day of live "le Tour" on Eurosport Satellite TV. I had originally planed to see the start of the race in Dublin Ireland, but changed my mind due to the cost to get back to the French Alps to see them race in the mountains. So I watched the first week from the comfort of an armchair, I got so comfortable I didn't want to leave. I always feel this way after a prolonged stay in the comforts of home. I wanted to see the rider's in the French Alps, they were going to begin riding in the hills on Monday July 27th. I was still in the Czech Republic on the Thurs 23rd!

-My tour begins-
Caught the train from Plzen to Domazlice, not far from the Czech/German Border. Only paid $3 Aus. inc. bike to travel 60km! I continued on my bike down the mountain-side towards Germany. Before I went through the border I stopped at a petrol shop & bought a couple Plzner Urqvel (beer), it's 1/4 the price of the German brew. I camped at Furt in Wald, my campsite being a football-ground like green field. Ate my dinner in the dark. Furt in Wald was preparing an Medieval festival in the town square, it was a pity that I had to move on, I would of liked to see it.

1. Me in the Czech Countryside.
2. Domazlice
3. On the way to Germany

Made use of the excellent German weekend train ticket ($30Aus.) again, which allowed me to get from the Czech Republic /Germany border, all the way to the Germany/Swiss border near Freiburg. I must mention that I had to change the train 5 times & also it took 12hrs in travelling/waiting time. At least I had no trouble in taking my bicycle on board! Saved 170Dm ($166) on the normal train price of 201Dm, by travelling on the weekend.Camped at Freiburg-Germany, a wonderful bike city many students, a real good vibe. When I arrived into the town-square (Münsterplatz) at 9.30pm, many people where drinking & being merry. Their was a classical music festival happening at the time. The first person I asked for directions to the campsite was an Irish-German student, no problems he rode with me all the way to the campingplatz. You have to watch were you step in Freiburg, the old gutters don't have a lip on them. They are built like miniature canals, 25cm wide & sunk into the pedestrian walking zone, ready to trap un-careful feet or bike wheels.

I caught a local train from Freiburg to Basil-Bad (Swiss Border). It took me awhile to get my bearings I didn't have a good map. Decided I was running out of time to see the riders in the Alps, I better get their quickly. So I headed for the train station, stopped & asked a local for directions, by this stage I was going in circles. Was glad I now was heading in the right direction. Just paid $5 Aus. for a plain salami roll. I should of expected it, I'm on a train from Basil to Geneva. I grumble with the cost of the fair $67 + $15 [bicycle] for a 2hr 50min journey. I should be glad my bike is travelling with me! It is sure is a nice train, as you would imagine from the Swiss. I could get used to sitting in this seat & watch the scenery float by with no effort. The route past through Bern, Lausanne (next to the lake of the same name), I had brilliant views of the Alps which were only 60km away. They looked awesome, from this vantage point they looked impossible to climb. I arrived into Geneva at 5.30pm, went & bought a Swiss Army knife with all the bells & whistles on it. My 10 year old knife had given me good service, but I would like one with a lockable blade. Went to the Tourist Information center to get a map of the city, & to ask about campsite's. They were most helpful, gave me a bike map showing a bike friendly way to the French border for tomorrow.Camped at a campground next to Lake Geneva, it was pretty full. The first people I meet where a couple from Canberra Australia! Its been awhile since I've talked Aussie, howw-ya-going-ma.........te? It was a hot evening the temperature in the high 20's, lots of mossies around.

I awoke the next morning to the sounds of thunder, it was 5am. I had my tent packed & I was having breakfast at 6.30am. That must be some sort some of record for me. It started to rain, so I sat undercover at the reception, I watched the camp-ground slowly awake. Some English/Australian bus traveler's joined me. I really enjoyed speaking with them, it gets pretty lonely when you cant speak your mothers tongue. So it was a nice change. They said how good I was, travelling around Europe by bike. As the Heavens opened I wish I was on the warm dry bus! My ride from Geneva to Annecy (60km) was not much fun. It rained non-stop all day, & there was plenty of trucks to keep me company. I had choose a National road to save time. lt took me awhile to find the route to the French border. Many Auto-Bahn type roads, yuk! So now I'm in my second new country in two days, "France". I arrived into Annecy soaking wet & feeling fatigued, I needed something to eat. I felt apprehensive to go & speak to French people, because I cant speak the language. Annecy looked nice in photos, but all I could see was a lake surrounded by mountains covered in low cloud. The city was jam packed with cars, not very bike friendly. I couldn't make my mind up whether to stay the night or ride on to Chambery? It was 6.30pm & still raining, I ask a man which way to Chambery? He advised not to ride this late. So I asked the train information man, can I take my bicycle on the train? He said "no problem". As I waited on platform A, a French girl asked me if I could mind her washing as she went to get a magazine. We had a bit of a chat, luckily she told me my train was now on a different platform.

ANNECY Train Station
I heaved my bike up the narrow staircase of the train, my pannier bags just fitting through the entrance. Locked it to a rail, then made myself comfortable. As I studied the map, it looked like their would be more campsites at Aix-Les-Bain, there was a natural lake in the vicinity. So I got off at Aix-Les-Bain. I rode up the tree lined street to see if could find the tourist information desk. The town had a sort of tropical feel to it, lots of palm trees, the evening air being very humid. As I rode through the town, I noticed a movie-theatre; there was a lady usher at the door. I could feel her staring at me intensely. So I went over to talk to her (to see what movies are on, off course!) Turns out she is a cycle-tourer, & has toured around Australia by bicycle as well. Evan rode across the Nullabor on a tandem! So it wasn't my skinny legs that caught her attention? Her name was "Fabi" from Rome, & her partner French "Denis" who was a chef in the swish hotel in town. Maybe I can sample some French cuisine? I visited them often during the week; it was nice to talk about the places they had been to in Australia & to see their photos. Denis filled me in, on good places to visit in the surrounding Alps.

Today was the day I had been waiting for along time. I was going to see Le'Tour De France! I went into the Chamberry Tourist Office, to get the times the road closed before the riders came through. I had 2 hours to climb the 12km to Col. du Granier (1134 m). I went up the side of the mountain, a different route to the peleton; I shouldn't have much traffic. Carried one pannier bag full of warm clothes just incase. About 10 separate riders on racing bikes came past me during my accent, most of them saying "bon jour" (hello) to me. It was a steep hard ride, had to use my granny gears often [24 x 30 or 34 gear]. Just to give you an idea of what the tour rider's do in a days racing in the Alps. See below.
Stage 16 - Vizille - Albertville
Col. de Porte (1340 m) : 15,1 km @ 7,2%

Col. du Cucheron (1140 m) : 4,3 km @ 7,3%
Col. du Granier (1134 m) : 8,5 km @ 5,5%
Col. du Grand Cucheron (1188 m) : 18,5 km @ 4,3%
Col. de la Madeleine (2000 m) : 19,4 km @ 7,7%
As I rode, I could hear the TV Helicopter in the distance, which meant the riders where not far away. I started to feel nervous, was my chance of seeing my dream slipping away? I rode harder, I came around a bend to see many spectators cars parked on the side of the road, many not far from the edge of the precipice. As I reached the summit, I saw many people crowding around the King of the mountain banner. I felt faint because of my effort, then I saw the motorbikes go past. I new my time had come, the leading riders would be here soon. Then all of a sudden they were in front of me, shit I couldn't believe it! I clicked my camera wildly, not knowing what riders I captured on film? All the peleton came past in 15 minutes, they were pretty much together as a bunch, no big breakaways at that stage. I wished I had my SLR camera, with zoom lens. The riders were on the crest of the summit, they were moving damn fast, it was hard to get a good shot with my little 35mm lens. Tomorrow I hope to be further down the mountain, so I can get some good photos of them coming up the mountain. They should be going allot slower. After the excitement, I sat at the mountain top cafe & contemplated what I had just seen. Later in town I went past a TV shop window, there was a reply of today's stage on Eurosport, I saw myself on the reply.

Above Left to Right
A fellow bicyclist enthusiast, with his custom travel bike.
The view from Le Revard.
The pelaton coming over the Col. du Granier (1134 m).

Today I rode up Le Revard (1428 m, 16.1 km at 5.4%) to watch the riders. The Revard overlooks the city of Aix les Bain, and on a clear day you can see Mt Blanc & all of the lake which lies next to the city. Like yesterday, I had lots of fellow riders accompanying me on the accent, I saw serious club riders to dads riding with their sons, giving them a helping push on the back as they fought the mountain like true professionals. Some of the kids were only riding one speed BMX bikes, they breed them tough here in the Alps. As I rode up the climb, many of the spectators had already found a prime position & were settling down to a nice bottle of red & picnic, my lips were watering with envy. To my surprised, I heard someone call out "Allez O'Grady", they were calling to me! Maybe because I had an Australian flag hanging off the back of my panniers? It sure made me feel good, I instantly took on the pose of Phil "Skippy" Anderson, chucked it into a big gear & started to honk (stand on pedals) up the hill. My legs started to scream, whom am I try to kid! * [O'Grady was the Australian who held the yellow jersey for 3 days at the start of the tour] I found a nice open spot on the side of the mountain; my fellow fans were from Holland. Before the riders came through, the tour circus would pass through. That means, lots of small cars impersonating products of all shapes & sizes, & in these autos would be lovely French ladies handing out products. From coffee, sugar, France telecom, to insurance companies. I got a lot of freebies! Evan though the riders are great athletes, you can see the tour is about ..... Money!
According to my Dutch friends, the peleton would pass here around 4.30pm. I still had one hour till they came past, so I sat back & took in the beautiful scenery before me. I could still see snow on the distant peaks, the sun was shining, it was magnificent! I must have dosed off, but I awoke to the sounds of my friends yelling, "the Helicopters here, can you see it, it's down in the valley!" It was the TV helicopter to relay the pictures back to the studio. The atmosphere was full of excitement, it had been along wait & they were late, my watch nearly reading 6.30pm!
I could finally see them; the peleton came past in one massive group of whirling wheels, clicking gears, & bright colored jerseys. But something was wrong they weren't racing, they were going very slow? I found out later that the police had searched some of the rider's hotels for drugs the night before. Some of the riders had there bags confiscated, & where held to the early hours of the morning for questioning. So the riders were striking against the way they had been treated. Allot of the spectators I talked to were disappointed, they had traveled very far to see their heroes "race". I could sympathize with the rider's actions though. I waited a couple of hours to let the throng of cars get of the mountain. Then I started my 15km decent back down to Aix le Bain. I couldn't let fly, because my rear tire was abit on the dodge side. I made it down safely, & caught up with my friends, Fabi & Denis for a cappuccino. I was really tired from today's efforts, they insisted I stay at there place for the night. Next day I bought a Michelin 700c x 32 semi knobby to replace my Avocet Cross tire. Its sidewall had perished at only1683km, maybe from the touring load?


Racing cycles

From Top to Bottom:
Free handouts from the Tour de France.
Friends: Denis, his buddy, Fabi, and me.
Picturesque route, at the base of Col. De Granier, on the way to Grenoble.

I said farewell to my friends Fabi and Denis, then made my way to Chamberry along the truck infested National road, heading for Grenoble. As I left Chamberry I noticed a bike path leading of the road for the direction I wanted to travel -South. It turned out to be a serene picturesque path, which twisted & turned through green vineyards & quiet villages at the base of Col. de Granier. As I paused to check my map, a mature cyclist rode up to me & asked if I needed a hand. His name was Jean-Paul, & was riding back to his family home at Crolles (15km Nth of Grenoble). He like most, was surprised to find out I was from Australia. I rode with him, since he knew the picturesque route. He quizzed me on were I was going to camp, I told him somewhere near Grenoble. We rode next to the base of a huge mountain range, it looked familiar. I asked Jean-Paul about it, he told me when the weather is favorable you would see many Para-gliders floating above. The range is called "Massif-De-La-Chartreuse". Then it came to me!, I had seen the mountain before on a paragliding video, while I was staying in the Victorian Alpine village Bright (Australia). The video was about a paragliding festival, which is held on this mountain once a year, the participants dress up in costumes & their gliders take on a weird appearance as well We continued riding in the brilliant sunshine, then Jean-Paul invited me to camp at his home, right at the base of the mountain! Wow one more invite, this is great!

After I had a shower, I set my tent up in his massive back garden complete with organic veggie patch, which JP said, "use what you want". Hmmm.... there was deep red tomatoes, 3 types of crisp lettuce, JP even had some grapes growing! Yum. His daughters invited me to dine with the family, they probably pitied me, when they saw me about to open a can of baked beans. The family all sat at the dinner table, for the entrée we had fresh spring beans from the garden smothered in a cream sauce, then a yummy chicken dish, followed by 5 different types of French cheese, lovely. It was all washed down with a fruity smooth red, superb! In the morning I awoke to a grand view of the Massif-De-La-Chartreuse mountain from my comfortable tent bed. What a sight, I even saw paragliders soaring overhead. What a magical view!

From Top to Bottom:
Having a meal with Jean-Paul's family.
The view from my tent from Jean-Paul's backgarden. The Massif-De-La-Chartreuse range.
Watching Para-gliders in the Massif-De-La-Chartreuse range.

Today I went about 3km up the road from JP's., to the vernacular railway which takes you to the top of Massif-De-La-Chartreuse mountain. The railway itself was a feat in engineering, the track going through the solid rock face and reaching a maximum slope of 45 degrees! Looking up from road level, it would seem the mountain was one continual white & foliage covered range. It isn't till you get out of the vernacular train, that you see a new mountain range on top of the existing one! I spent the afternoon watching the para-gliders practice their gliding from a gentle slope. It was a relaxing afternoon, I could hear a digi-ra-doo and drum being played from the small gathering of friends of the para-gliders. I ate my baguette, cheese and a small red wine, a perfect picnic.

Left my bags at JP's & rode the 15km to Grenoble. On the return journey I saw the turn off to "Col. de Porte" (1340 m) : 15.1 km @ 7.2%. It was one of the hills the tour riders went over. Hmmm, wouldn't mind to see how tuff it is? I had about 2 hours of daylight left, I thought why not give it a go. The first 5km where very steep, I wished I had started the climb earlier, now knowing that I might be on this accent longer than expected. I could imagine the spectators on the edge of the road edging me on, running alongside pouring water over me. The sun would be warming my back, the salt leaching into my eyes from the shear physical effort. But the reality was, it was pitch black now, cool & the only light was coming from my 2.4W headlight! I rode past restaurants with their warm inviting lights, the smell of French cuisine drifting from the interior. "I must be crazy", I said to my self. "What am I doing out here at this time of night?" I told myself I like the adventure, & pressed onward. An hour later I made it to summit of "Col. de Porte", well it wasn't much of a summit the road continued upward to the next Col. I could hardly see the little sign in the dark. I quickly took a photo, then got out of the cold & into a phone-box. As I waited in the phone-box, deciding what direction to take. A local driving by asked if I had trouble with my velo? I told them I would like to continue on to the next village, it was down hill. They suggested riding back down, because if you have trouble with your bike no one can help you. They told me the road is narrow & desolate. So that's what I did. I checked the temperature, it was 12 degC, the decent was painfully cold. As I rode around to the other-side of the mountain, I could feel the warm air rising from the city below. At that point, I didn't the mind the heat coming from the thousands of cars & household appliance's in the city. I was getting warmer. It took 45 min.'s to get back down of the mountain. I arrived back at my tent after midnight, feeling pretty beat.

Clockwise, from top left:
My nighttime accent of Col. de Porte.
Mt Revard.
The area around Crolles.

I was getting ready to leave my serene campsite a Crolles & make my way to Grenoble. As normal I checked around the garden to see if I had left anything. The sun was already blazing hot at 10am, as I walked past the compost heap, I was about to plant my big foot onto some dry grass. When all of a sudden a 1.2m snake zoomed from underneath me. I nearly wet myself! I didn't think I would have to worry about snakes in Europe! It was a scorching 38degC. As I made my way though the Grenoble City center. My route follows the main National Road out of town, & through the suburbs. It wasn't very pleasant trying to navigate my way through the concrete & car fumes. One blessing was I had a semi-bike path in the form of a side street, which ran parallel to the busy main road. After riding on the main road in the Heat & noise for 36km (no other quiet options), I decided to call it a day & camped at Vizelle's main campground (30Frf). In the evening I made a very refreshing sardine cous-cous salad, the veggies came from Jean-Pauls garden.

Right: One of the 21 U-turns on L'Alp D'Huez. (had to set up a mini tripod, then run over to bike in 10secs!)

My ride today was tough, I only covered 30km. It was a constant climb, the temperature never dropping below 37Deg.C & the air very still. Luckily I could refresh myself in the cold tubs. They were placed next to water fountains in the main villages, which were 10km apart. I would immerse my whole head & helmet into the ice-cold water, it would last only 15 minutes or so, but it was worth it. The national road was heavy with French holiday traffic, it being their holiday month when every man & woman in France hits the roads. It made me feel depressed. I didn't have many road options in this part of the Alps; it was either Climb Mountains or ride down in the valley with the cars. I had enough of the traffic, so I made a detour to a great cycling village of Allemont. The Allemont Tourist Office has a great little book of all the beautiful mountain rides you can do in the area. It includes gradients, elevation accumulated, & km's covered. Many of the Cols. from the Tour de France are included. I'm now camped at a quiet campground in Allemont. The man who runs the place made me feel real welcome, he had lived in Allemont for 30 years & was the local school headmaster before retirement. He was a wealth of knowledge. It's my first real quiet camping spot since I've started this trip. No screaming kids or cars driving by, I have the Alps as a backdrop, & have just finished a nice meal. Feeling abit tipsy, I lashed out and bought a bottle of Côtes du Rhône. So I'll sit back & relax now, & get primed for tomorrows ride up L'Alpe D'Huez.

Right: The view from the top of L'Alpe D'Huez.

I rode up Le 21 Lacets De L'Alpe D'Huez today. (21 "U" turns) The climb starts in Bourg d'Oisans (720m), then abruptly climbs 13km to L'Alpe d'Huez at 1850m. As you turn off the main flat road the first slope hits you in the face! I was on 24 x 29 gear, I thought I wouldn't make it at this rate. The other 4 slopes are just as hard, then they ease off too the number 21 turn. I was carrying 1 pannier bag of supplies and my heavy U-lock, that weight didn't help to ease my suffering, but I still had my bail out gear my secret weapon the "24 x 34" gear. Thank goodness I didn't need it. L'Alpe D'Huez, is such a mecca for bicyclist, they even have photographers on the mountain ready to take your portraiture. I was photographed 3 times & not one got my good side. I wasn't going to pay 80 francs ($20 Aus) for a photo, which lacked imagination on their part. As I rode, I had plenty of other riders as company decked out in the latest team's jerseys. The road was busy with car traffic, I now wished I climbed at sunrise as I set out to do. Being a techno-weeny, a bike shop caught my eye down in the village, I spent 1.5hrs browsing & never started the climb until 10.30 am! I came around the 21st & last turn 2hrs after I started, there was no fanfare, just fellow riders sitting at cafe's drinking expressos. Our eyes would meet; we knew what we had just accomplished. We nodded to each other.

Today I made a day trip from Allemond, past the lake and up through the valley to le'Rivier d'Allemond. There was not much traffic, which was a nice change. But I forgot to notice the 2 arrows on my map, which indicate a steep accent! There was 10km of it! It was hard going, I could manage my 36 x 34 (28 inch) gear for half the climb cranking it over at 65 rpm. Then switch over to the granny gear 24 x 34 (19inch) when it got really steep & I felt like spinning my legs. I thought this climb was harder than yesterday's Alpe de'Huez accent, or maybe my legs were just tired from yesterdays effort? Arrived at the village feeling pretty tired, so I pulled into a cafe which advertised "cycalistica menu", it being the only cafe around. Ate chocolate mousse and an expresso, walla (as the French say), felt peped up after that. While I rested, I heard bells ringing? I looked over to the hill and saw little brown goats being herded by a B & W sheep dog. They were on their way to be milked for the local cheese, which is produced in the village. I originally planned to continue down into the valley and then climb Col de la Croix de Fer (2067 m) 24.5km @ 5.1%, (it was the route of this years No. 15 stage of Le'Tour De France). I rode to the beginning of the downhill decent into the valley, surveyed the road which climbed out of it on its way to "Col de la Croix de Fer" -It was damn steep. My legs said no! I wasn't about to argue. So I returned back to my camp at Allemont. The decent back to basecamp was a ripsnorter; not too technical so I didn't have to brake very much. My max. Speed was 73km/hr, not bad I guess with a pannier on the back acting as a brake and fat touring tires. As I zoomed back down to Allemont, I did happen to see pictures of a car going down a steep slope with a 10% grade warning on it. No wonder it was hard! (Allemont's elevation is 730m, le'Rivier d'Allemond is1250m & the distance was 9.5 km)

Below: le'Rivier d'Allemond.

Spent a lazy day in Allemont, it was hot again & I could hear thunder in the mountains. I met my first French touring cyclist at the grocery shop. Jean-Marc was his name; he had a real cool custom-touring bike, something that you don't see too often in France the land of the racing cyclist. His bike had Columbus steel hand made pannier racks, which were really well designed. They were made to allow his rear bags to hang very low, like front low-riders. The attaching point for his Orteib bags were 25cm lower than the normal standard. Jean-Mark normally rode 100km/day, he told me he likes to take his time to leave camp in the morning. He left at 1pm today, that made me feel better, I'm not the only one who relaxed in the morning. I asked him to join me at my camp, but his legs were still fresh and he wanted still to ride. So I showed him were I camped incase he changed his mind, rain had just started to fall. Said farewell, then made my way to a local restaurant to try the local specialty " la Tartifelle" (potatoes, cheese, onions, all baked in an oven). Yum.

Allemont > Corps 70km.
I spotted Jean-Marc in the morning; he deciding to camp in Allemont after the heavens opened up. We had breakfast together, then headed off in different directions. I wanted to get of the main road, so I decided to "bite the bullet" & ride over the mountain. I'm on top of Col de Ornon now. Rode up with a full load of gear. It was tuff going, the last 1/3 I had a stiff head wind, I was using my 24 x 29 gear allot. But I was glad to be on quiet roads. At one stage I had to walk my bike, the climb had taken it out of me. The route looks like it's a favorite training ground for racers, I saw many groups of guys coming from the other direction. Glad I wasn't riding from that direction, it was a long & steep climb of 40 km. At the bottom of the decent I called into a cafe to get some refreshments, came out with an ice-cold coke, ice cream, & a cold mars bar nothing like a sugar fix! Arrived at Corps small Caravan Park as the sun was going down. I was lucky to get a piece of ground; the place was jam-packed with holidaymakers. The owner of the site allowed me to put my tent next to the shower bloc. Better than nothing I guess.

 Col de Ornon (1371m).

Below: On the way to Tallard.

Corps > Tallard 65km.
It was another hot day in the sun. I'm on my way to the city of Tallard, for lunch I stopped in the city of Gap. Made good use of the cheap rock melons, only 9francs/kg. After my belly was full, I continued on my way to the chateau town of Tallard. The only campground around was for auto camping. The soil was hard as stone; I managed to bend every tent peg I had. My tent was sandwiched between a car & an embankment, on a gentle slope. I didn't want to wake up with a car wheel on my head, so I found a rock & choked the wheel. In the evening, I rode into town to sample a free Blues band in the square. They were rocking! The village of Tallard had a country feel to it. Every so often the passing of a huge transport truck, which snaked its way through the picturesque narrow streets, shattered the quietness.

Tallard > Lachau, 60km
Today's ride was very beautiful; I rode on undulating roads through the fruit-growing region. There was kilometer after kilometer of ripe apples & pears. How could a hungry cyclist resist? I could not! At the village of Monętier-Allemont, I met 2 Dutch cycle-tourers quenching their thirst at the water fountain. It was so hot, I was glad to get out of the fierce sun for a chinwag (talk). The highlight of the day was riding on the D942 through the Méouge gorge; it follows the river of same name. It was late in the evening, so I had the road to myself. The sun was going down, you could see the structure and contour of the rocks, yellow colored sandstone and an azure colored stream at the bottom. It all looked gorgeous! Up till now I was giving up hope of seeing some awesome solitude scenery. This certainly quenched my thirst.As I rode along the scenic route today, many well wishing French holidaymakers called me. They shouted; bravo, bon courage, it sure made me feel great.

Lachau > Sault 48km
I was standing at a road junction surveying my map, when I heard what I thought was a jet plane flying closely. I saw something out the corner out of my eye, what was it? It was moving fast, & then I saw it slow. A huge hawk, putting on its air brakes, with outstretched talons was before me. It had landed onto a spindly pine tree. It was awesome & only 30m away. I walked closer to get a better view, it glided away. Wow! In the evening I camped at the main camping ground in the village of Sault. Whilst I ate my dinner, I met 5 French cycle-tourers camping in the same area. They invited me to their gourmet delight cook-up. It was go-ood!
Above: My route around 'Ventoux'.
Above: The moonscape of Mt Ventoux, the summit in the distance.

I left my bags at Saults campground & rode up the 27km to the volcanic National Park "Mt Ventoux". There are 3 different routes to the 1910m summit. I started from Sault, which has as elevation of 760m. Mt Ventoux is a regular "hill" for the Tour De France riders; they ride up from the village of Bedoin, which is at 310m! The start of climb was gentle; the road winded its way through light timbered country full of olive groves. The cicadas were at full song. At each U-turn there was some interesting information on vegetation & fauna in the park. My ride continued out of the undergrowth, into the openness of Volcanic Ventoux. Some of the twists and turns, were very steep, I just managed it in my low touring gears. I came across many racing cyclists who, after grinding their not so low racing ratios looked pretty tired at this stage. (In Europe, I now notice many bike manufacturers selling racing bikes with a triple crankset, it makes sense to me). As I got closer to the summit, the terrain changed to a sparsely treed landscape. With no spectators to give encouragement & the sun beating overhead the effort grew harder.
About 500m from the top, I came across a memorial to Tom Simpson. He was an English rider who participated in 19? Tour de France, but never made to Paris. Sadly he died on this mountain during the race. Around the memorial there were many gifts from cyclist making their pilgrimage to Ventoux. I got very emotional whilst I was there. Tom Simpson died doing what he loved. His daughters wrote "Dad, theirs never a mountain you can't climb". I continued on my way to the summit, on top of the mountain many cyclists gathered from the day's effort. I browsed through the tourist shop, picking up a well-photographed book, on the stage winners of Mt.Ventoux, as well as one of those sow on badges for the pannier bag. Riding back down the mountain, I noticed scenery I hadn't seen on the way up? I slammed on the anchors, & looked for any turnings on the map. Damn, I missed the left turn at the start of the decent, & I was 3/4 of way of down already! That meant I had to climb an extra 400m of vertical, as well as an extra 50km in distance to Saults campground. Next time, pay attention Carl! The ride back to camp was tiresome, it was hot (in the high 30's), no tall trees for shade, my energy levels low, & winding roller coaster road seemed to go on for ever! If I wasn't so fatigued from the morning's climb, I bet this could be nice ride. It sure shows how your energy levels effect your enjoyment of the day's cycle.
Left: Aerial view of Mt.Ventoux.
Left: Memorial to Tom Simpson.
Below: The Summit looms into view.
Below: Old poster at the summit.

Sault > Goudes 70km
Riding through the Gorges de la Nesque at the moment, 6km South-West of Sault. It's a Cyclist dream, 14km of gentle coasting down-hill, twisting & turning, with no need to brake. One of the highlights of the trip in the gorge was to see the "Belvédere cave" perched high up on the rock ledge. The gorge road rolled into the village of Villes s Auzon, whereas I swapped my bike seat for an outside cafe chair & settled into a expresso and ice-cream. I continued through Hermitage country, fairly flat, the red grapes looking very tempting. There was a small but hard little climb to the village of Blauvac on the D150, good view of Mt Ventoux, then a down hill to Malemort du Comtat and the bottom of a Venasqua village. I came to a T-junction, do I ride to Fontaine-de-Vaucluse or Gordes? I found a shady spot, rolled out my sleeping mat, propped up my feet against my bike frame, & thought about it as I snoozed. Going to Fontaine-de-Vaucluse first, would mean back-tracking to Gordes a day latter, so I chose Gordes. The road to Gordes was a reverse of the mornings ride, oh sure it twist & turned, but going forever upwards! I snaked my way up the narrow path, as people coming down in cars looked to me in amazement. I was on my lowest gear, & barely keeping balance. I thought the climbing was over, my French cycling friends told me it was all down hill to Gordes? But after a quick look at a historical Monks home, there was one more grunter of a hill, & it was only a car width wide. I was so happy that I decided to ride to Gordes, the village was perched on top of a rocky mountain, & as the sun went down it cast a reddish-orange glow to a already awesome visage.
Left: Gorges de la Nesque
Right: Surrounding vegetation near Gordes.
Below: Gordes

Goudes > Avignon 54km
I found a sports-bag full of rotting clothes and makeup in the forest. Looks like the left-overs from a car break-in? Arrived at the beautiful village of Fontaine-de-Vaucluse, famous for its clear spring waters. As I looked from a bridge, I could see the green water vegetation swaying in the current, it looked so calming, reminded me of my tropical fish hobby days. Fontaine-de-Vaucluse is a natural spring in the Vaucluse area of Provence.. It has the deepest natural sink hole in the world @ 350m!
Left: Fontaine-de-Vaucluse.
Below: Pepe

Avignon > Pont du Gard.
I had 2 days rest in Avignon. My left knee was playing up, probable result of all the tuff hills I've been climbing. So it was good to take a break & just walk everywhere. While I stayed at Avignon, I met many cycle tourers. Lots of Dutch cyclists, a couple of Belgians, & of course your go everywhere German bike tourers. There was even 8 Australians from Newcastle with their own backup/support vehicle. I got used to having all these friendly people around me. It was difficult for me to leave the safety of a bunch and head out on ones own again. I got talking to a Spanish cyclist "Pepe" before I left, he had these metal posts strapped to his bike? Turns out he is a performer, & his metal poles are his stilts. He was very interesting to talk to, he was on his way to Australia via Greece, Middle-East, Asia, the world. At last the sky's were clear, for the past month there has been much pollution in the air, you could not get a good clear landscape photograph.
Today was going to be an easy day only 30km or so? It was a flat day, but I forgot about the Provence wind (the Mistral), which blows down from the Rhone valley. At the start I had a fierce tailwind, but of course it switched around & blew from every direction in the afternoon! Even so, it felt good to be back on the bike after 2 days rest in Avignon. Riding into the township of Pont du Gard, I expected to see the 2000 year old Pont (bride) as I arrived, but I had to continue around a tree lined path before I set my eyes I on the amazing roman structure. Pont du Gard was part of the old aqueduct system, used to transport water from Uzes to Nimes, 50km away, using the natural fall of the land. Pont du Gard is the highest know Roman bridge-aqueduct, reaching a height of 48.77m for a maximum length of 275m. The material used for its construction was fossilferous limestone and came from the nearby quarries. Just to gaze over the countryside surrounding Pont du Gard and the 50km aqueduct, it is difficult to imagine that this wilderness was the scene of bustling activity some 2000 years ago. Think of all the work for the Project Manager, as well as the experienced workmen, conscript craftsmen, slaves & legionaries back from various campaigns. All this activity compares with that of any huge work site of today, only no dynamite, crane, bulldozers, pneumatic drills, lorries, or cement-mixers.... only the force of thousands of men!
Right: Lavender fields of Provence.
Left: Dutch friends at Avignon campground.
Below: Pont du Gard.

Pont du Gard > Nimes 47km.
I stopped outside a small village outside Pont du Gard, to have some lunch. I happened to spot some people with car trouble, I saw they had bikes hanging off the rear of their car, so I went over to see if I could lend a hand. They were Daniel & Neela from Friebury Germany, doing a bit of travelling in Daniel's brothers borrowed car. The motor didn't sound good, I reckon the big end bearings where on there way out. As we waited for the mechanic, we got a card game going, had a cup of tea & shared what food we had for lunch. It turns out my diagnosis was correct for their engine, the mechanic said the "big end" was stuffed! As the car was being loaded onto the tow truck, I bid farewell to Daniel & Neela & continued on my way to the City of Nimes. The main campground was 10km out of town, so I gave the Youth Hostel a call & found out I could camp in the garden for 1/2 the cost of a dorm room. Finding the hostel was no problem, just look for the nearest hill, it was bound to be at the top of it, & it was. The place was run by a trendy Englishman, who made everyone feel at home, I can highly recommend the place.
Below: St. Gilles Church.
Below: At S.tes Maries-de-la-Mer

Today I saw the sights of Nimes, including a tour of a 2000 year old Roman Arena. Met some fellow Dutch cycle-tourists.
Left: Fellow Dutch cycle tourist, in front of Nimes Arena.

Camping in the woods outside Génerac. (20km Sth of Nimes)
Lucky to find some native woodland, because most of it has been turned into grape-vines or fruit growing land. I rode an extra 15km in the city today trying to find my way out of Nimes! Felt very tired after lunch, there was a slight headwind, so I rested in the shade for a while. A cheeky Red squirrel kept a watchful eye on me. Did I feel tired because of one big bottle of dark beer last night?

Génerac > St. Gilles > S.tes Maries-de-la-Mer.
I met English rider Jonathan from Zurich. We rode together, down to the Regional de Camargue (Swamp National Park). This is the only place in Europe were Pink flamingoes graze before they fly to Africa. The wind picked up as we made our way south, it was so strong we could freewheel with no pedal input! After we struggled to put our tents up, we headed into town. Walking next to the Mediterranean sea, it was wonderful to see such a expanse of water after being in land locked countries for some time. There was a bull fight happening tonight, it proving what a strong Spanish influence there is in this part of the Sth. of France.

S.tes Maries-de-la-Mer > Arles YHA
In the morning, our tents where full of sand, the wind still blowing a gail from the North. The map said there was a path East across the swamp, so that's what we decided to do. There was a path for the first 2 km's then we lost it, we could make out some riders on the sand in the distance, so decided to follow them, bad mistake! Ended pushing our bikes in sand for 10km. My back was killing me, from lifting my front wheel as it sank in the soft sand. At last Jonathan & myself made it to some hard tarmac, but then we had a fierce headwind to deal with. Jonathan was allot stronger than myself, he was doing +200km days in the saddle, it was hard for me to follow his wheel. I couldn't keep up with him, & as he didn't have as much time as me, we said farewell & parted company, letting each to their own to fight the wind.
No respite from this damn 60km/hr headwind! I've been riding into it for last 50km !!*x*!!xx! It must be one of the hardest bike days I have encountered, I'm sure I went a little crazy today as I shouted obscenities to the deaf wind. It was strange, as soon as I stopped riding the wind magically disappeared, & it wasn't till I remounted that the wind came back with vengeance. Finally I made it to Arles Yha, where I made a new friend, Yael from Jerusalem. Arles is one more town where the Romans had a strong influence, it's also a place where Van Gough spent a extended time of his life.
AVS 11KM/HR, TRP 60KM, STP 5:23hrs.
Above: The never ending sand in the Regional de Camargue.
Below: Scenes from the Arles open food market.

Part 6
Arles YHA > les Baux-de-Provence > Avignon.
I really enjoy the riding today, it's what I imagined cycle-touring in France would be like, with no traffic, 25degC temperature, plenty of large trees for shade and a cool breeze for comfort, it was ideal!
I saw ruins of an Roman aqueduct today, must be part of the network that extends from Uzčs to Nîmes.
The village of les Baux-de-Provence was full of tourist, but being perched on top a cliff made for a excellent photo.
Left: les Baux-de-Provence.

Camp-ground at Avignon.
Back in Avignon after doing a circuit of Southern France.
I met Yael again, the lovely lady from Jerusalem.
The Avignon camp ground had different feel to it after been away from it for a week. There were no cycle-tourist to be seen, they were replaced by young bus/inter-rail types.
In the evening I met a load of people from Australia & New Zealand, they were having bit of a sing along , one of the guys was a mean guitarist, he could play almost all the requests. It was strange to hear a Aussie accent again.

Avignon > Pont-St.Esprit > St Martin d'Ardeche.
Riding Nth from Avignon next to the mighty Rhône River, I crossed it a number of times today.
Near Avignon there were major works taking place. French railway are extending the fast train (TVG) to Marselle. So there are many bridge's which have to be built, they must be able to handle a 300km/hr train going over it!
Today I recorded my max Avs. speed (22km/hr), the "Mistral" was on my back for a change, it stayed with me for 50km. The terrain was flat next to the Rhône River, which helped allot.
Spending on average $55 Australian/day in France (inc. $200 on Phonecards, whoops).
Last night I met some Dutch cycle-tourers at the St Martin-d'Ardeche campground, they have the biggest tent I have ever seen. It has room for their 2 bikes in the vestibule, but the penalty is, it weighs around 7kg.
The guy, was very proud of showing his equipment, new Koga-Miyata bikes, Ortlieb waterproof panniers bags. But they didn't have a therma-rest chair like me!
Most Dutch cycle-tourers think maybe I'm from Holland, because I have a Bever(r) Zwerfsport thermometer attached to my handlebar bag. It certainly starts the conversation going, even if its in Dutch!
TRP 66km, 31degC.
Right: Gorge De L'Ardech

St Martin d'Ardeche > Pont d'Arc-Ardeche.
I feel tired as I write this, I'm under a tree to escape the sun as I eat my lunch. My lunch consists of a French Baguette, soft cheese, roma tomatoes, onions, & provence herbs. For dessert I'll eat an rockmelon, their in season now.
Half way through the Gorge De L'Ardech, I should say above L'Ardech, because I'm not so lucky as some to be kayaking it!
The road route goes up & down like an roller coaster, with magnificent views of the valley below. Still allot of atmospheric haze about, not good for photos & that was even after an thunderstorm last night.
As I crested a hill, I saw 2 wild goats drinking from very small 1m x 0.5m puddle. I kept riding towards them & reached for my pocket Olympus out of my handle bag. As soon as I turned on my flash, one of them flinched. I thought that's it, they will run away now, one stayed around and I got my shot.
I even got myself onto someone's video camera, as I crested one of the last viewing points of the gorge, a man jumped out from his car with his camera in tow and filmed me grunting up the accent. I put in an award winning performance, I think?
TRP 38 Km, 1530 Km so far in France.

Pont d'Arc-Ardeche > les Vans.
Legs are like lead today, cycled near a beautiful river (the Granzon Chassezac) crossed old bridge's, very nice scenery. It pissed down rain in evening, I planned to ride over the 900m Col. 23km to Villefort, lucky I didn't I would have been one soggy fellow!
TRP 43Km.

les Vans > Villevort.
Glad to awake to sunny skies.
Rode through the Parc-National-Cévennes, & climbed the 900m Col du Mas de I'Air, it rises to that elevation in 14km. 1:14, not used to the sub 30C. temp it was only 20C! On the accent I came across a tree full delicious figs, I made a stockpile, filling every nook & cranny of my pannier bags, I wish I collected more, they soon disappeared on the arduous climb.
I arrived too late to get a train to Langeac, so I set my tent up in Villeforts picturesque campground.
My camping spot has a lovely open field with lots of apple & pear trees, & fantastic hot showers.
It was the cheapest & nicest campground, its always the case.
TRP 32Km.

Train, Villevort > Langenc.
Caught a train to Langeac in the Mastiff Central. Now travelling on a green road (from Michelan map {beautiful}) towards Le Puy, up through the "Valley of the Volcanoes", sounds exciting doesn't it. Well I've been slogging up this hill for the last hour, & it hasn't done anything for me yet!
It reminds me of Australian sheep crazing land, except the sheep wear bells around their neck & there is pine forest instead of gum trees.
Pigged out on wild blackberries, something you wouldn't do in Australia because they would of been sprayed with poison.
Arrived into the big city of "Le Puy en Velay" at 6pm, I was surprised to see huge statues perched on top of cliff faces. Don't know what they represent, must check it out.
I camped at the cites nearest camp-ground Brives-Charensac, 5km out of town next to the serene Loire River.
TRP 52Km.

Le Puy > Varey
Many Jet-fighters above, saw the Chateau "La Voute-Polignac", very majestic.
Went and got supplies at a supermarket, then the heavens opened up.
It was 6pm, I still wanted to ride on this smooth road next to the Loire river, through the green valleys and beyond. I felt good, I donned the wet weather gear, booties and all, kept going for another 2km or so.
Thought to myself, whats the point to keep going if I have to put my tent up in the rain & dark? So I turned around & set up camp at Varey next to the river Loire.
TRP 27Km.
Right: River Loire

Varey > St Just
I waited around for my tent to dry, my French neighbors were playing boules, by the time it dried it was lunch time, so I had a quick bite to eat, then headed off next to the calm Loire river. There was more traffic than yesterday, & it wasn't as pretty.
I past an old "French tourer", it was unusual, it seemed most French raced!
30km up the valley, I met 2 German girls cycle-touring with a dog/cat cage tied onto there back bicycle rack, sure enough a little doggy came out to great me when they stopped to chat. They were sisters, they told me that "Spot" the dog got upset if he couldn't see the other sister riding in slipstream. I was told it called for some quick handling adjustments as "Spot" barked and jumped around in his cage.
I arrived at Aurac, a town full of buzzing motto scooters being driven by immature teenagers, playing scooter chaise! As l finishes getting some money out of the bancomat, a man approached me, saw me with my fully loaded bike and asked, "do you need somewhere to stay for as long as you want?" As this hadn't been the norm, I wanted to sus the situation out first.
Julian was his name, he & his partner traveled around the world on their bikes for a year. He was glad to return a favor to an fellow cycle-tourer. He new what is was like to be on the road.
To get to get his place ment riding an extra 27km, some of it climbing on a (>)category accent. Julion told me it wasn't to difficult, and said, "Bernadette was an excellent French cook". I was there in no time! It was well worth the extra ride, getting there was very nice, I had a gradual climb through a forest of green leaves, with superb views of the Loire valley below.
When I arrived at Julians home, a aperitif was handed to me, which went straight to my cycling legs! Then great French cuisine made by Bernadette, salad first, then the main course of Turkey with naturally sweet carrots cooked in olive oil & zucchini's, all washed down with fine French wine. Next, was 6 types of cheese, then dessert, I thought my stomach would explode, it was an gastronomic delight, yum!
TRP 78km.

I caught the bus into St Etienne, I was feeling a bit seedy from last nights feast, I got motion sickness from the buses route down the winding road.
St Etienne, ancient city of the arquebusiers (16th century rifle soldiers), it grew considerably in the XIXth century during the industrial revolution, it became the capital of the bicycle after having been that of gunsmithing, Simplex, Huret, Stronglight just to name a few manufacturers.
Its cultural role is well-known, and was the birthplace of the composer Jules Massenet (1842-1912), and of the cycling champion Roger Rivičre (1936-1976).

30km > St. Etienne train station, then a train to Lyon.
Ticket lady said "you can take your bike on the 18:40 train to Colmar, but not the14:10 train.
So I had 4hrs to play with, I rode the 2km to the old part of Lyon & explored the narrow cobbled streets.
"Impossible to put velo on train.!!" That's what the train conductor said when I approached the baggage car. Was this the nightmare I dreaded, now was coming true?
I had a feeling the baggage van was empty, I couldn't understand why they make it difficult. In Germany you just wheel your fully loaded bike onto the train
The conductor spoke English, I explained to him that the lady at the information desk said it was possible to take my velo on this train. He checked his book, and with embarrassment apologized, "Oh sorry, Oh sorry, you can take your Velo on this train". I had to bite my tongue not to say something vulgar.
He helped me lift my bike into the empty baggage van.
I arrived at the Colmar Camp-ground at 23:50hr, the heavy rain which I despairingly watched from the trains window as it headed to the cooler North had stopped. Quickly made tent, & listened to the motorway which was only 200m away, separated by a green sound barrier!
Right: Spot the dog and friends, bottom : Julian.

I awoke early, & left without paying, I had such a bad nights sleep. Went into Colmar to check out the town & stocked up on some French cheese before I crossed the Rhine River into Germany.

150 Frf of cheese :
•Bargkas 255g @ 95.6F/kg
•Comte 570g @ 94.0F/kg
•Morbier 305g @ 83.20F/kg
•Munster 95g @ 95.60F/kg
•Chavignol (goats) x2 @ 17.10F each.
As I crossed the Rhine into Germany, a bicycle path appeared from no where, like normal German efficiency.
I rode to Freiburg via fruit orchards, I sampled free (?) yummy crisp apples, & walnuts.
My ride to Freiburg took longer than expected, I ended up riding in the rain in the dark, I was glad to come across a quiet road which followed the strait canal all the way into the center. Arriving at 10pm, I was offered a caravan, at first I said "no", but changed my mind at 14Dm/night ($12 Aus.).
TRP 68km.

Bough a weekend train ticket for my journey back to the Czech Republic.
The train journey will take 10hrs, & I must change trains 5 times. The savings will be worth it, the normal price is 201Dm ($180A) for my journey from Freiburg -> Bayerisch Eisenstein (Czech Republic Border). I will pay the price of 35 Dm, plus there will be no problem to take bicycle aboard. Great!
On the train there were many Happy old trampers, they were off to explore the Bavarian Forest. You can take 5 people on the weekend ticket.
Arrived at Bayerisch-Eisenstein in the Bavarian Forest (the largest continuous mountain forest in all of Europe), walked my bike to the Czech Republic border crossing next to the train station. They were just shutting up shop. The man who was just about to leave asked for my passport, I showed my British Blue book & he said O.k. without even entering my number.
I rode my bike to the Czech town of Zelena Ruda, is was 3km up the road. I knew I was back in the Czech Republic, I could smell black coal being burnt as fuel in the cottages. It has a really strong aroma, and it drifted down the valley into my little tent. Damn!
I hadn't eaten much all day, so by this stage I was getting pretty hungry. Two of the restaurants I went into had finished cooking at 9pm. I wasn't used to that early closing time. I managed to find one place that served me some Goulash & beer.
Before I went to bed I looked at my thermometer, it read 5C! I hadn't seen that sort of temp. for 5 months, welcome to Central Europe Carl.

Zelezna Ruda -> Chlumcany.
It was a rainy day at Zelezna Ruda, I decided to get a train to Chlumcany were my girlfriend lives.
When I asked for a ticket, the lady said there is a bus part of the journey, they are working on the rail track. As I couldn't put my bike on the bus, I bought a map & began to ride over the mountains towards Nyora.
Riding on top of the mountain ridgeline was nice, it was raining a little &a bit cold, so I donned my Gore-Tex top & bottoms to keep well dry. I had been carrying them around France the last dry 7 weeks, right now I was glad I had them. It was 4 degC.
I made good time to Nyora, where I could get the train, but was feeling good, so kept riding with the assistance of a massive tail wind, I was cruising along at 41km/hr. It was payback time, when earlier on in my tour I had the "Mistral" wind in my face for 50km. I think its called the "Energy Conservation Equation" meaning energy can't be destroyed, only changed to another form. I remember one more cycling rule:
"if there's a tailwind, keep on riding!".
Made it to Klatovy in quick-time, made lots of people laugh, with my yellow rain-suit and size 48 over-shoes.
I made it to Chlumcany, & got a nice welcome home from my girl, Martiná.
TRP 80Km.
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